Greening Livelihoods, Bridging the Digital Divide

UNDP’s pilot initiative, Green & Digital, connected local producer from around Lake Urmia basin to country-wide digital platforms

June 20, 2022

“Green & Digital” promoted sustainable income-generation practices while serving as a platform to address the digital divide and improve livelihoods in the project area

By: Claudio Providas, UNDP Resident Representative in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Digital technology has played a prominent, if not the most important, role in the 21st century. It has had profound impacts on many aspects of our lives, including economies. The recent pandemic inevitably bared the vital critical role of digitalization in access to livelihoods.

Iran, with a prominently young population, has witness a major boom in its online platforms during the past five years. Widespread use of e-marketplaces and ride-hailing apps are two of the most visible manifestations of the said transformation. However, the urban-rural inequality in terms of inclusive access to digital ecosystems calls for a multi-faceted response. This rapidly evolving scene demands reimagining development in the digital age.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supports countries in future-proofing their development effort through use of digitalization. This includes using the digital power to sustainably adapt to climate change and restore our natural environment. It likewise spearheads the UN’s wide-ranging global efforts to boost the digital capacity of vulnerable and marginalized groups including women and people with disabilities, for instance.

Over the past few years, conservation of Iranian wetlands and, more specifically, restoration of Lake Urmia have been two of the flagship interventions of UNDP in Iran. In 2021, seized by the need to help local communities affected by the pandemic and climate change, UNDP Iran mobilized its resources to boost livelihoods of local communities living around Lake Urmia basin which is home to nearly 5 million people. To do so, UNDP joined forced with Digikala, one of the major e-commerce platforms in the country. The “Green & Digital” initiative was planned as pilot project to promote diversification of livelihoods with an aim to create sustainable green jobs and reduce the pressure on water resources.

“Green & Digital” which has its roots in UNDP’s Conservation of Iranian Wetlands Project (CIWP), was implemented from March to May 2021 and promoted sustainable income-generation practices while serving as a platform to address the digital divide and improve livelihoods in the project area.

Throughout the life cycle of this pilot project, 300 local producers who had previously benefited from CIWP were approached by Green & Digital to receive digital capacity development training. To help these local producers link to urban markets, 10 local digital hubs were established across the project site in East and West Azerbaijan. These hubs serve as connecting points where local producers can package, market, and untimely post their products to Digikala dispatch centers. Nearly half the local producers who received the training went on to register their products on Digikala. Most of these producer (nearly 70%) were women.

Interestingly, the local producers who had received the capacity development training from UNDP sold three times as much.

By applying a whole of society approach, “Green & Digital” tried to offer a practical guide to how fit-for-purpose digital solutions can enhance social welfare and prosperity. Nonetheless, for any such solution to succeed, all stakeholder ranging from local government authorities to the private sector should help pave the way for the vulnerable to take the first guided steps before they can stand more firmly on their feet and go on to expand their sustainable income generation activities.

UNDP Iran and its partners will continue to mobilize action to help rural producers green their income generation activities and have equitable access to digital markets. Our efforts in this regards are aligned with the strong tendency of the government to move towards a knowledge-based economy, the vision of Digital Iran (2020-2025) as the national digital roadmap, and UNDP Iran’s niche relative to enabling and promoting sustainable livelihoods while preserving the environment. The positive outcome of “Green & Digital” propels us forward to tap into existing potentials among public and private sector stakeholders, young entrepreneurs, business incubators, and start-ups. The digital space, once made available to everyone, can bridge the economic opportunity divide between rural and urban communities.

In UNDP Iran we pride ourselves in being able to act as convening platform that can showcase, promote, and link potential growth opportunities in local communities to the private sector and governmental stakeholders. We believe that building on the best practices and lessons learned of “Green & Digital” and together with our partners we can promote sustained thriving local communities who not only contribute to the country’s resilient economy but do not leave anyone behind and help create a constructive legacy for future generations.



Globally, from September 2020 to September 2021, UNDP has helped to adopt 580 digital solutions in 82 counties in response to COVID-19 pandemic, including 96 data collection systems, 71 e-commerce systems, 61 e-learning platforms, and 149 e-governance systems.